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Reader Mail

Remembering Ned Harkness (more in One Last Thing)

In the fall of 1947, I arrived at RPI and lacrosse to me was a city somewhere in the Midwest. Four years later, I had the privilege and honor of being the co-captain of the ’51 lacrosse team, a participant in the North-South game played in Troy and a selection to an All-American team.

Ned Harkness is directly responsible for all of the above. Unbelievable coach, unsurpassed guy, no other coach in NCAA history to accomplish what he did in not only lacrosse, but also in hockey. He was then and is now an inspiration for not only me but also my entire family. Ned became a surrogate father and one who will be sorely missed by thousands of players both at Rensselaer and at Cornell.

E.W. Phares II ’51
Princeton, N.J.

The rebirth of RPI hockey had its origins with the arrival of the excellent hockey Class of ’54 and the newly arrived hockey Class of ’55. Ned considered himself to be so blessed to have enough bodies who could skate and do things with the puck. The new situation exceeded his wildest dreams.

In the fall of ’51 (the Class of ’55 had experienced campus for only four weeks), Ned wanted to measure his new crew against the best that college hockey had to offer. Accordingly, in early October of ’51, he invited one of college hockey’s powerhouses, Boston University, to Troy for two days worth of scrimmaging. What BU expected to be a cakewalk for them in fact resulted in two solid wins for RPI.

It was then that Ned and RPI and the city of Troy recognized that there were interesting times ahead for RPI hockey. It was then also that Harry Cleverly, the longtime BU coach, brought the message back to his peers in Boston, the college hockey center of the universe, that a happening was unfolding in Troy at RPI.

In 1951 no one knew or could have known the jewel that RPI was blessed with in Ned. In three shorts years, 1954, he won his first national championship. In all of his years at RPI there were very few, if any, who had a higher success rate than Ned.

RPI was unfortunate enough to lose him to Cornell where, in two famous seasons, he was 29-0 and 29-1 with two championships. This is simply unheard of. It is highly unlikely that there will ever be his equal.

We all know that Ned did it “his way,” sometimes to the dismay of his bosses.

Ned was simply a great natural coach. Apart from his success in hockey he has taken athletes who had never played lacrosse before and made All-Americans of them.

Ned became a close friend of mine and of my family. He stayed at our home on his visits to Ottawa. In Florida we visited often with him and his wife, Irma, and with Abbie Moore and his wife, Bobbie.

Ned was always gracious and generous—a joy to be with. He was the source of so many treasured memories for so many of us.

We will all miss him.

Frank Chiarelli ’55
Ottawa, Ontario

I first met Ned in the fall of 1951 when he came to visit me in Montreal. I had completed high school and was taking college level courses. Ned was anxious that I begin at RPI in the second semester because freshmen were eligible for the ’51-’52 season but would not be eligible for the ’52-’53 season. I went down to Troy for a visit during the Christmas tournament and was sold on RPI. I started classes and hockey in the second semester and after a full load in summer school I was classified as a sophomore. Ned delivered on the promises he made to me. He enjoyed tremendous support and respect in the community. As a result, members of the team were embraced by the community. I have many fond memories of my time at RPI.

Ned was a truly remarkable and a unique individual. He was demanding but caring. He was a fierce competitor and a great motivator. He was able to get his players to play at a level well above their basic ability. With all due respect to the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, Ned was the architect of the first “Miracle on Ice” that occurred in 1954 when we won the NCAA championship at the Broadmoor in Colorado.

Bob Fox ’55
West Lafayette, Ind.

They lost the mold when this man was made. He was the finest coach a young man could have. Somewhere, up there, the first period is about to start...the pacing will begin...the slap on the back will come...and he’ll give someone the best chance to win.

Tom McMahon ’62
Cannon Falls, Minn.

Ned Harkness was the BEST coach I ever played for. He took me, barely an average player, spent “tons” of time working with me on lacrosse attack, and got more out of me than I ever thought possible.

At our 50th RPI reunion, chatting with Willy Lick, an All-American in football and lacrosse, majoring in aeronautical engineering like myself; was a 4.0 a Ph.D. at the University of California: we talked fondly about Ned Harkness. I mentioned how much Harkness had worked with me. Willy responded, “He never worked with me!” I responded, “Well, he didn’t need to; you were an All-American.”

Also when my wife and I met Ned Harkness at my 45th RPI reunion, he said, “Hi Joel, good to see you.” My wife later said to me, “Boy am I impressed; he remembers you.” THAT WAS Ned Harkness!

I will ALWAYS cherish the relationship I gained with Ned Harkness—a great coach and person.

Joel Godston ’55
North Haverhill, N.H.

It was with heavy heart that I heard mid-’08 that Ned Harkness was “not doing so well” —and then of his passing on Sept 19. Ned was truly a remarkable man and one that our class experienced during the height of his energy and talents—not just because he was a terrific and winning coach who was able to make winners out of normal athletic guys, but because of his warmth and generosity with all those he touched.

In June I was appointed to the National Research Council’s committee on “Understanding the Impact of Selling the Helium Reserve” (owned by the U.S. government), and was introduced to our co-chair, Dr. Robert Richardson. I quickly found that Bob—a Nobel laureate, longtime professor of physics at Cornell, and now senior adviser to the president and provost of Cornell—and I had an interesting common experience, that of college hockey and lacrosse, and particularly of Ned Harkness. Bob was and still is an avid hockey and lacrosse fan, partly spurred by his going to hockey and lacrosse games early in his career at Cornell when Ned was making his mark in putting Cornell at the top of the NCAA hockey and lacrosse ranks. Bob, though not an athlete, was another of many who experienced the excitement of Ned, his winning ways and his ability to motivate teams of young hockey and lacrosse players to become NCAA powerhouses.

So as the pain of Ned’s passing begins to fade, let us celebrate Ned’s life and his accomplishments, not only as a terrific and winning coach, but as a wonderful human being—and, I must say, a guy who had a very important and lasting impact on my own life.

Ned, we hope that somehow you know that RPI’s Class of 1957 has always and now does salute you!

J.R. “Buzz” Campbell ’57
Lexington, Mass.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.